The Port of San Francisco
Shipping Lines in San Francisco
During the 1800s, many entrepreneurs managed ships sailing in and out of San Francisco carrying goods and passengers to Pacific Coast cities and up and down inland waterways from the City to Sacramento.
Among them were William E. Mighell, George E. Plummer, Jacob Jensen, Joseph Knowland, J.S. Kimball, Lorenzo E. White, George Howes & Co., Capt. Asa M. Simpson, Samuel Blair, G.A. Meiggs, John Rosenfeld, Nicholas Bichard, J. D. Spreckles & Bros.
In addition, whalers and other fishing operations sailed in and out of San Francisco. Several of the more notable companies follow.
By 1878-1877, The United States had 7,249 vessels moving 2,390,521 tons of merchandise.
Daily Alta California, July 7, 1889
The general shipping and commission business of San Francisco is one of great magnitude and vast importance; in fact, the welfare of the coast is in a great measure dependent upon it. There is no line of business that is represented by a stronger financial backing than is possessed by the numerous firms engaged in this line in this city.
California, Oregon and Mexican Steamship Co.
Ben Holladay took over the Pacific Mail Steamship Company coastal trade in 1861 when Pacific Mail decided to concentrate on its trans-Pacific service. While Holladay is best known for starting the Concord Stagecoach to the West, during the 1860s Holladay established headquarters in an office at the corner of California and Liedesdorff streets in San Francisco to run his California, Oregon & Mexico Steamship Company.
Daily Alta California, September 28, 1888
The Newbern's Sailing Date
The steamship Newbern of the California and Mexican Steamship line will not sail today as previously announced, but will leave tomorrow morning at 10 o'clock from Steuart street wharf. The Newbern will touch at Ensenada, San Jose del Cabo, Mazatlan, La Paz and Guaymas.
California Fruit and Meat Shipping Company
Daily Alta California, April 13, 1877
California Fruit and Meat Shipping Company
The Convention of fruit and stock men of California and Nevada, whose proceedings nave been reported in the Alta, met yesterday at the Grangers' Building, 40 California street. The organization of the proposed shipping company was further perfected by the drafting and subscribing of articles of incorporation. The name of the corporation is " The California Fruit and Meat Shipping Company." Term of incorporation, fifty years. Capital stock, $500,000, in fifty thousand shares. The purposes for which the Company is formed are: to deal in all kinds of fruit, meat and fish, and produce of every character, and general merchandise, as factor and principal ; together with doing business of transportation, forwarding and commission agency. Principal place or business, San Francisco.
Ten thousand four hundred and eighty shares of the capital stock were subscribed for, representing $104,860.
The following officers were chosen: President, John Cashin of Nevada City; Vice President J Earl of Oakland; Secretary B. B. Norton of Reno, Treasurer J. D. Blanchar of San Francisco.
A Committee on Auditing and Finance was appointed, consisting of Wm. Johnson of Richland; Chas Grove of Vallejo; and W. S. Bailey of Virginia City.
A Committee was appointed to wait on the railroad officials to make terms for the use of the track for the cars of the corporation . . . Sheep men in the San Joaquin Valley are also willing to contribute more sheep than the company can reasonably expect to ship within the year. One man writes that be has not sold a wether for three years; has plenty of sheep but no money. It is to be hoped that this enterprise will increase his bank account. It is likely that the first slaughterhouse for sheep will be built at Merced. The company will have their work well in hand in a few days.
California Shipping Company
The California Shipping Co. was organized by William A. Mighell of San Francisco, who became president and manager of the firm. In 1863, Mighell purchased the Monterey, a steam screw tug, which was built as Monitor in 1862 by Eden Landing, San Francisco, Calif.; purchased by the Navy from William Mighell 20 April 1863; renamed Monterey 18 May 1863: and placed in service the same day. In 1900, The California Shipping Co. was rated as the most extensive owner of sailing vessels in the world.
California Steam Navigation Company
The Company initially focused its operations to bay and river runs in the San Francisco area. In 1858, as the result of the Fraser River Gold Rush in British Columbia, the company entered the coastal service with runs to ports north of San Francisco. Their initial ships included the Pacific and Brother Jonathan. By 1865, California Steam had become known for its disregard of human life where profits were involved, but it was doing a handsome business between San Francisco, Victoria and Puget Sound. Freight piled up on the San Francisco docks faster than the line's coastwise steamers could haul it north. The aging Brother Jonathan was crammed with freight until her holds bulged . . . then more was piled on deck. Captain Samuel De Wolfe informed the company's agent that the steamer was being dangerously overloaded; the agent responded that if he was too timid to take the Brother Jonathan to sea, there were a dozen jobless captains who would do so. Two days later enroute to Portland from San Francisco, during a heavy gale the Brother Jonathan struck St. George Reef (near Crescent City) and sunk, taking at least 166 persons with her to the bottom.
The Brother Jonathan's sister ship, the Pacific, lasted until 1875. When she went, the toll was even more shocking.
On November 4, at ten at night, with 230 passengers, the Pacific was heading from Victoria to San Francisco when she rammed the square-rigged ship Orpheus. The blow was not heavy, but the old Pacific fell apart at the seams and sank in minutes. The Orpheus' was somewhat damaged, did her crew not realize the condition of the Pacific. Only two survivors were picked up from the wreck of the Pacific, and one of the two died from shock and exposure.
Cole & Nagle
George D. Nagle left Sydney, Australia on the barque Gloucester for San Francisco on May 31, 1850.
Both he and Thomas Cole were members of the Society of California Pioneers as noted in the Daily Alta California, July 3, 1886. (Mrs. Nagle and Mrs. Cole were frequently in San Francisco's society columns, including "Society in Oakland" and George Nagle is frequently in news relating to political matters.)
Numerous sailings were listed in the Daily Alta California in 1852 under the names of Cole & Nagle, i.e.
The May 31, 1852 Daily Alta California lists several vessels cleared under Cole & Nagle's auspices: May 19, the barque Don Juan, Captain Sears, for Sydney with 80 passengers; the Brig Orleans, Captain Leetch, for Manzanilla; May 27 the brig China, Captain Frost, cleared for ports in the pacific.
Daily Alta California, October 16, 1852
EMIGRATION TO AUSTRALIA
Since the discovery of gold in Australia the emigration from this State has been very great and is rapidly increasing. All the fine vessels put up for those ports have readily obtained a complement of passengers, and now the transportation of passengers has become an important and regular trade. Messrs. Cole & Nagle of this city have despatched vessels semi-monthly, and they inform us that the emigration has been very large and is increasing beyond expectation. A large portion of those who have gone are Americans who, fond of a roving life, and loving excitement, have gone to this El Dorado merely to prospect and see what is to bo seen. The trade has become so important that Messrs. Cole & Nagle have determined to fit out a first class steamer, which will probably leave either on the 1st or 15th of next month. We were shown letters from the mines to these gentlemen stating that there was a large number of persons anxious to go, and that if any opportunity was afforded to go by a steamer, there would be no difficulty in securing for her in a short time a full load of passengers. We understand that it is the intention of parties to charter the splendid steamer New Orleans for this purpose. This steamer has been laid up for some months undergoing a complete and thorough system of repairs. Her engine has been taken to pieces, cleansed and put in the most perfect order, and the vessel overhauled throughout, and several important improvements made in her accommodations. The distance in round numbers to Sydney we are told is about two thousand miles, and that such a steamer as the New Orleans, without accident, would be able to make the passage at the farthest in twenty-fire days. The vessel would stop at Tahiti, where coals could be. procured and fresh supplies of provisions and water laid in. The day is not far distant, nor does it require a great stretch of imagination to see it, when a line of steamers will be plying regularly to the Australian ports. That is a fixed fact, and we should be proud to see San Francisco take the first steps in this great enterprise. Australia will throw off the yoke in a short time, and give her citizens a better opportunity to develop her great mineral and agricultural resources. The trade between the two countries will be immense when they are brought within less than a month's time of each other by a line of excellent steamers.
Daily Alta California, November 1, 1852
Steam to the Colonies.
EDITORS ALTA CALIFORNIA: -- In your issue of to-day appears a premature statement, calculated to injure the sailing vessels laid on at present for the Colonies. You state that a first-class steamer will be laid on by Messrs. Cole and Nagle, and that the steamer must of course out rival every thing in the expedition of her voyage.
A steamer is not required to make the passage to Sydney at all. Good sailing vessels have performed the voyage in 38 and 42 days -- a distance of 7000, not 2000 miles, and the only steamer which has left this port for Sydney took 75 days. A trade wind exists the whole way, or until near the coast.
As Messrs. Cole & Nagle have not absolutely chartered any steamer yet for this purpose, I should recommend persons intending to visit those interesting colonies to stick to the canvas, and leave Messrs. Cole & Nagle the enjoyment of the smoke. Your ob't serv't,
Little is in the newspaper after that date and Cole & Nagle are not noted in the more prominent books covering shipping and captains of the mid-to-late 1800s. By December 1852, the New Orleans was steaming between San Francisco and Panama under Captain Wakeman's command; she arrived in San Francisco on December 15, 1852.
In 1877, Pacific Mail Steamship Company sold the wooden side-wheeler Great Republic to P. B. Cornwall. The Great Republic, built on Long Island in 1866, was a huge ship for her type (378 feet long, registered at 3,882 tons, constructed of copper-fastened white oak), she was going out of style. P. B. Cornwell, a California pioneer, brought her at a bargain price.
Cornwell doesn't seem to have had a formal shipping line and he initially planned on using the Great Republic, but not actually operating her. However, the Pacific Coast and Oregon Steamship companies balked, so Cornwall started up the Great Republic's steam boilers and set up low San Francisco to Portland fares ($7 first class; $2 steerage) and freight rates ($1.50/ton). When the established lines countered by lowering their rates, Cornwell took his even lower and he actually made money because it turned out that coastal travel was even cheaper than boarding room rates. Cornwall's enterprise terminated on mid-April of 1879 when the Great Republic attempted to take the ship over the Columbia Bar at night rather than wait for dawn. The Great Republic didn't clear; she straddled the bar. All 500 cabin and 346 steerage passengers were safely received in Astoria, but the combination of high tides and a series of spring storms tore her to pieces.
The Dollar Steamship Company
Robert Dollar was born in 1844 in Falkirk, Scotland. He moved to Canada in 1857. It is also reported that by the time he was 11 he was a shore boy in a lumber camp where he endured many hardships. Perhaps this was back in Scotland. In 1893 Dollar purchased a sawmill on the Pacific coast of the United States, and his lumber business grew. He had a son, Stanley Dollar who left school at 13 and worked in his father's lumber office.
In 1893 or 1895 he acquired his first vessel, a single steam schooner called Newsboy from the recently bankrupt Navarro Mill, to move his lumber from the Pacific northwest to markets down the coast and in the process they established the Dollar Steamship Company. The new company had a fleet of schooners, presumably moving lumber from the owners' interests to the markets. In 1902, Dollar Steamship Company moved into international shipping running a chartered voyage to Yokohama and the Philippines.
In 1906-7, Dollar purchased a property at San Rafael, California which he renamed Falkirk. He lived here for the rest of his life and today the house is the Falkirk Museum. In 1923 he purchased seven ex World War 1 "502 President type" liners from the US Shipping Board. In March 1925 Dollar took over an additional eight "535 President type" liners from the Shipping Board but managed by Pacific Mail Steamship Company in Trans Pacific work. The cost was $5,625,000. Even though this bid was a million dollars lower than Pacific Mail's bid, it was 100% cash whereas the latter's was cash and stock. It was decided that the Pacific Mail bid did not meet the terms of the tender and thus, Dollar Steamship Company gained itself $30 million worth of ships and was now able to start a westbound around the world service. The ships continued to be used on the Trans Pacific service. As would be expected, this hit the Pacific Mail Steamship Co. bad and in 1925 it was taken over by Dollar. In addition, the Admiral Oriental Line went bust and it was also now part of the Dollar Steamship Company. The Dollar Steamship Co. was now one of the most profitable shipping companies in the world but the approaching depression was to be affected. The name of the company changed in 1929 to Dollar Steamship Line Inc. Ltd.
Matson Shipping Lines
In 1876, Captain William Matson came to San Francisco around Cape Horn as a sailor on the ship Bridgewater. Matson soon commanded scow schooners carrying coal from Mt. Diablo Mines to the Spreckels sugar refinery in San Francisco.
Matson Navigation Company's association with Hawaii began in 1882, when Captain William Matson sailed his three-masted schooner Emma Claudina from San Francisco to Hilo, Hawaii, carrying 300 tons of food, plantation supplies and general merchandise. He next took command of a larger schooner carrying sugar from the Hawaiian Islands. After building a brigantine, Lurline, he bought other sailing vessels.
In 1901, Captain William Matson purchased the American steamship Enterprise, and began loading for Hilo. The Enterprise was the first offshore ship in the Pacific to burn oil instead of coal.
His acquisitions turned into the Matson company, which still plies the world's seas. More on Captain Matson.
Occidental and Oriental Steamship Company
Formed in 1874 by the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad to operate trans-Pacific passenger services in competition with Pacific Mail. Although based in San Francisco, their ships were all chartered, mostly from the White Star Line and flew the Red Ensign. By the early 1900s, intense competition particularly from Japanese owners caused trade to decrease and the company's last voyage took place in 1905.
Oceanic Steamship Company
Daily Alta California, July 7, 1889
The firm of John D. Spreckels and Bros., was incorporated in 1880. It consists of the three brothers John D., Adolph B. and C. August. The firm was the largest shipping and commission business in San Francisco. They are agents for the Hawaiian Sugar & Commercial Co., Hakalau Plantation Co., Hutchinson Sugar Plantation Co., and the firm of Messrs. W. G. Irwin &. Co. Besides they control nearly a dozen other sugar plantations and handle one-half of the Hawaiian Islands.
They are principal owners in the Oceanic Steamship Co., and have four steamers in the service between San Francisco and the British Colonies of New Zealand and New South Wales, having the contract for carrying the mails between these points. The Oceanic S. S. Company also owns five and the Spreckels owns three sailing vessels, all of which are engaged in the sugar trade.
In connection with their colonial trade the Spreckels Brothers are agents for the Union S. S. Co., of New Zealand, a wealthy corporation, with a large and extended business, and also for Cowlishaw Bros., of Newcastle. They also import about 200,000 tons of coal annually, for Pacific Coast requirements, the bulk of which is received from Newcastle in New South Wales. The firm is also agent for several large sugar and coffee plantation owners in Central America. The firm also holds the agency of the Union Insurance Co. (Marine) of Canton, and the Standard Marine Insurance Co., of Liverpool.
As individuals, the various members of the firm are also interested in the California Sugar Refinery, which has a capacity of 500 tons daily; in the Watsonville Beet Beet Sugar Factory, which has an output of 4000 tons of sugar yearly, and in the Occidental Beet Sugar Co., which has just been incorporated with a capital of $5,000,000 for the erection of a dozen more beet sugar factories throughout the State of California.
The whole of the vast shipping and commission business is managed by the eldest brother, and head of the firm, Mr. John D. Spreckels. The youngest brother, Mr. C. A. Spreckels, manages the California Sugar Refinery business, while Mr. A. B. Spreckels is now in Philadelphia managing the new Spreckels Refinery in that city.
Pacific Coast Steamship Company
The Pacific Coast Steamship Company (PCSC) was founded in 1875 (a Monterey site indicates they were going in and out of Monterey in 1870, but there is nothing else to substantiate this).
(Ad right: Daily Alta California, April 13, 1877)
Ads in the Daily Alta California and Oakland Tribune in the late 1880s indicate that the line was owned by Goodall and Perkins.
This passenger and freight company was based on Beale Street in San Francisco. They shipped a variety of cargo such as vegetables, grain, lumber, coal and iron, and boasted modern, luxurious facilities for their passengers. In 1870, the Pacific Coast Steamship Company constructed the wharf at Monterey for regular passenger and freight service. In the early 1890s, the name Pacific Coast Steamship Company gained permanent resonance, until the demise of the company in 1936. The company travelled routes from Alaska to San Diego, and included stops in many ports along the west coast of the United States, Canada and Mexico. This was a large company that employed over two dozen ships.
Daily Alta California, November 25, 1886
Pacific Coast Company's Steamers.
The Ancon has been thoroughly refitted and repaired and has been put in service in the Pacific Coast Steamship Company's southern line between this port and San Diego, taking the place of the George W. Elder. The Elder, after being overhauled, will run on the Oregon route.
Oxnard Courier, January 22, 1904
LUMBER RATE WAR SEEMS ASSURED
A recent San Francisco dispatch says: "The lumber war between the Pacific Steamship company and the steam schooner owners of this coast is now being waged in earnest. The first step has been taken by the Pacific Coast Steamship company, and today it carried out its threat of entering the lumbering business on this coast when it chartered the schooner Willis A. Holden to carry a cargo of lumber from Everett to San Pedro. The Willis A. Holden is one of the largest schooners on this coast and will carry 1,300,000 feet of lumber.
The schooner will carry the first cargo of lumber to be taken to the newly established yard of the Pacific Coast Steamship company at San Pedro. For the past few months agents of the company have been investigating the lumber lumber situation in the southern part of the State, and as a result of their favorable report, the steamship company is now entering the lumber business. The announcement that the Pacific Coast Steamship company has chartered the schooner Willis A. Holden to engage in the lumber trade will come as a surprise to the steam schooner owners of the city as it has been confidently stated by lumbermen at this port that the Pacific Coast Steamship company is only trying to bluff the steam schooner owners into quitting the passenger transportation business.
It was several months ago that the Pacific Coast Steamship company announced its intention of competing with the steam schooner owners in the lumber carrying business unless they desisted from cutting into the passenger traffic of the Pacific Coast Steamship company. The steam schooner owners laughed at the proposition at the time, stating that the steamship company was only making idle threats. Now, however, that the Pacific Coast people have shown their hand, the steam schooner owners will combine to fight their rival and a rate war will likely result. The Pacific Coast Steamship company's officials state that they will go further in competing with the steam schooner owners. It is their intention to build six steam schooners which will ply in the coast lumber trade, and they will be established all through the southern part of the state, and the lumber will come from the properties of the company in the North.
Pacific Mail Steamship Co.
Founded in 1848 by William Aspinwall of the firm of Howland and Aspinwall to execute a contract to carry mail from the Isthmus of Panama to the newly-annexed territory of California. Fortuitously for Aspinwall and his fellow investors, Pacific Mail was accidentally but ideally positioned to cash in on the Gold Rush of 1849.
(Ad right: Daily Alta California, April 13, 1877)
Sacramento Daily Union, October 5, 1854
Combination of capital in Steamship, Railroad find Stage Companies, seems to be the order of the day. Capital combines monopolies — professedly to protect itself against itself— but, really, for the purpose of securing a certain annual interest, or, in plain terms, to force the community to pay for the use of this capital an amount of interest per month that will satisfy its owners.
The latest combination is that of the P. M. S. S. Co. and the Nicaragua Co., to buy of Vanderbilt and the Independent Line, raise the price of passage, and divide the proceeds between the two lines. The two first propositions have been effected. Vanderbilt is to be paid $900,000— $800,000 for his three boats, the Uncle Sam, Yankee Blade and North Star — an , enormous price — and is then to be paid $100,000 upon his entering into bond that he will not put another imposition line upon either the Panama or Nicaragua routes. This $100,000, and the over price paid for the three steamers, are to be paid, of course, by the passengers to and from California by an increase of fare. Consequently, the fare has been raised to $800, first cabin $300, first cabin; $250, second cabin, and $150 in the steerage. These prices are to continue for one year.
As an offset to this increase of fare, we are to have weekly steamers and a weekly mail, an arrangement which, for the interest of each company, should have been made two years ago.
Weekly steamers will prove a decided accommodation, but the heavy increase in the price of fare will prevent many a family from emigrating to California. It will exert a powerful influence against the increase of population in California, without a corresponding benefit, except in adding to the profits of these mammoth steamship companies.
As a result of this and the high quality of its service, the company became both an important part of the history of the American West as well as one of the most profitable enterprises of its era, with an annual return on investment that ran as high as 30%. Within five years of its inception, the company was running 18 steamers and it peaked at 23 in 1869, the year that the transcontinental railroad neared completion.
In 1861, Pacific Mail Steamship Company began concentrating on its trans-Pacific service. It sold its northern line to the California, Oregon and Mexican Steamship Company.
San Francisco Call, January 26, 1892
The Lost Granada's Cargo.
The Pacific Mail Steamship Company has filed an answer in sixty-eight suits against it for freight lost by the wrecking of the steamer Granada near Manzanillo on the Mexican coast on June 22, 1889. These suits call for the payment of about $6000. The company's defense is that the ship was not lost through the carelessness of its servants and that it cannot, therefore, be held responsible for the loss of the freight.
For a time, the line survived on subsidized mail contracts to Australia and New Zealand, but when it lost those it was soon forced to accept a takeover by the Southern Pacific Railroad Company in 1893.
In February 1901, Pacific Mail Steamship's City of Rio de Janeirosank in an early morning fog when entering San Francisco Bay taking down the ship, captain, and an estimated 130 passengers, dozens of crew and cargo.
In 1912, Congress banned ships owned by railroads from using the Panama Canal, so Southern Pacific sold PMSS to the Grace Line, which operated it as a subsidiary under its traditional house flag from 1916-25. It was then taken over by Robert Dollar & Co., which merged PMSS into its own operation, although it, too, continued to use the old name and flag on occasion.
With the government bail-out of the Dollar Line in 1938, ownership passed to American President Lines, but by this time PMSS essentially existed only on paper. It was formally closed down in 1949 after just over a century of existence.